Fear in Writing: Location. Location. Location. (and a contest)

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Location. Location. Location. (and a contest)

Louisiana: deep in the country but really only miles from a city steeped in despseration and devastation.

New York City: at the height of the Wall Street 90s, hedonism, neon, and flesh on every sidewalk.

Rome: in every church and every underground passage, the stones bleed history.

Nashville: the Athens of the South, eye-catching architecture and history-making locations spread across one of America's fastest growing cities.

These are all settings for books you know.  Some writers take pride in using location as its own character...And I must say, I love these books!

There are certain genres that lend themselves to the location-driven plot--mystery and historical fiction being two of them.  What would historical fiction be without a setting?  The late 19th century is a time, but place your characters in Victorian London and you have a feeling, a vision, a set of social mores that enrich your plot.

Mystery/suspense is also a great friend of the location-character.  Think of all the scenes made more mysterious by placing: an empty house, a dark night completely quiet or slashed by torrential rain, a building housing a shell corporation--bustling with lemming-like people as they keep their secret locked inside all that concrete.

Now, see if you can guess the books or writers whose locations I described above.  The first person to get all four correct will receive a book by one of the authors!  Spread the word...I bet you can figure these out if you think about it.

Questions for discussion: Do you like reading a book where location is a character (let's make it a given that it's done well)?  Is location important to you in your writing?  Would you rather read about real locations, or imaginary ones?  How about writers--do you prefer to stay true to history and geography, or create your own setting?

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  1. I couldn't even begin to hazard a guess at any of those locations. Well maybe the Davinci Code for Rome.

    I love it when the location is a character, as a matter of fact I'm doing that in my WIP right now. I'm trying to keep it as authentic as possible because I have a niche market there I don't want to lose. I'm also trying to keep as many real actual people in it (on the outskirts) to give it that homestyle flavor.

  2. My mysteries are set in London. Where Jack the Ripper roamed...well, not exactly there. But, I love the feeling that London gives, just by name alone you have a picture, a setting, a feel.

    Great post.


  3. Lots of fun! Location is super important for painting a scene.

    But you left Egypt out! :)

  4. I guess location isn't as important to me. When writing my own books, I use real places mixed with fake ones, but few of those locations ever really took on a personality. (New Mexico in Book IV probably did.) But I am more focused on characters, both in my writing and my reading.

  5. Locations can become an extra character - as the producers of Sex and the City said "New York is the fifth lady in our series".

  6. I probably didn't place enough emphasis on the character of my location.

  7. Mysteries do rely a LOT on setting...you're so right!

    I've made up one setting (easier from a research standpoint!:) ) and I've also researched online and in person for location setting for another series.

    I'm feeling slow today! Can't quite place your books but I know I know them!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  8. Real or imaginary location depends on the book. Compare Dashiell Hammett's San Francisco to ("Red Harvest") imaginary Poisonville. Both worked for the story he was telling.

    SF and fantasy usually work better with imaginary worlds. Try to tell a non-fiction story without a real location.

    I currently am living far away from the city I love, Los Angeles. I have been trying new and different writers just to enjoy the Los Angeles locations. So I can understand why wannabe travelers could select books by the worlds the books exist in.

  9. I love location as character. And I try to use location in my writing. Usually real.

  10. Location is so important, but I can't hazard a guess as to the books you've listed :)

  11. Ann- Interesting. I think I tend to shy away from inserting real people b/c of my nervousness over offending--journalistm background and all that.

    Ann Elle- London is definitely one of those cities that envokes a feeling. And name a neighborhood (ok, I don't know the neighborhoods) and it changes the feeling...Great cities are that way.

    Stephanie- You know, I DID think about you and Egypt while writing this post. My challenge with Egypt is I only think of one thing--ancient Egypt. I am really looking forward to your book to learn more.

    Diane- I think you have to remember you audience as well. Maybe I'm wrong, but YA seems more character-driven and fantasy-driven than location, location, location!

    Elspeth- Exactly!

    Alex- We shall see in the fall, right? I would imagine the period between the first and second publications is the biggest learning curve.

    Elizabeth- No one has really taken a stab at them. :( I don't know if I could make up a setting...Brave.

    Michael- A great location pulls me into a book. I am fascinated by mysteries set in Europe and other locales. This is driven most by my desire to learn, learn, learn. Fantasy worlds? That's iffy for me, it really has to be the right book. Welcome, Michael!

    Sarahjayne- Agree!

    Jemi- hahaha...I have stumped you all!

  12. To me, locations establish an overall atmosphere that enhance the story. I would like to base my stories in more unique locales, but unfortunately I've not experienced many lately. If I were a paid writer I would spend more time researching and experiencing exotic locations. :)

  13. I love great locations. They add such richness to a story (and a sense of travelling there without having to buy the plane ticket). My one modern day manuscript (a suspense story) was set in Nevada and Tahoe because I grew up there (among other places) and it those places have a life of their own.
    Fantasy is harder because I still want my locations to be characters, but I have to make them all up, which means more work for me!

  14. Yes, yes yes! Location is essential to me both as a reader and as a writer. I had to change the setting of my last book to San Francisco so I could visit the locations and get them right. I assume my next book will be set in Atlanta.

    I'll give these a shot.

    Louisiana always puts me in mind of James Lee Burke. I love Southern Louisiana and Burke's descriptions take my breath away. The Tin Roof Blowdown was written after Katrina and I think it's one of his best.

    The only book that comes to mind for NY is Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City although I know there are a million others.

    For Rome I have to go with Anne, Dan Brown? Just not sure which book. Angels & Demons was the one set in Rome, though.

    Oh dear, Nashville. I haven't a clue. :( But I'll be visiting there this summer and I'd love to read something set there. Do tell, Michele!

  15. This post makes me think of the book I just reveiewed on my blog called Neverwhere. It takes advantage of the city of London and it twists the reality of London into a warped mirror underground world. There are a TON of references to real London and it is in fact based on real places. Very location driven novel! Check it out.

  16. Oh yes, the setting can totally be another character.
    Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil wouldn't be the same without Savannah as a major character.
    Pat Conroy's books wouldn't be the same without SC.

    Great post.

  17. DL- Are you shilling for pay? Might have to do some research...

    Lorel- I would imagine the making it up part is fun.

    VR- You're the closest so far! I'll reveal the answer soon...

    Voidewalker- I am intrigued! Thank you for the recommendation.

    Lola- Definitely about Conroy. I hadn't thought of him, but his stories lose a character without setting.

  18. No idea about the locations, unless one is Dan Brown's Angels and Demons (it is, but I am sure that is not it, though the location is well done in that book).
    And yes, while I normally prefer characters to places, when it is well done, I love location as a character.

    ~ Rayna